Malaysia’s increasingly uncertain political environment

Updated On: Aug 25, 2006

In Malaysia’s increasingly uncertain political environment, Malaysian Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin’s recent comment that “the transfer of power and administration essentially means the transfer of cronies” has provided a surprisingly blunt acknowledgement of the crux of the problem in the “deep political differences between Mahathir and Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi”.

Zainuddin said Abdullah should be left alone to govern the country his way and without interference, if the Malays want their weaknesses not to be exposed.  He said "the Malays thrive under the crony system”.  Referring to Mahathir’s allegations of Abdullah‘s cronyism, he reminded the public that, "There were cronies during the era of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad too, so the weaknesses of the Malays during the present administration should not be exposed for all to see".  He questioned why leaders should expose each other's weaknesses, saying it was not a healthy exercise.  Acknowledging that while it was undeniable that the abuse of power and misappropriation of funds were bound to happen under the crony system, Zainuddin said,  “…the prime minister is trying his best to rectify the situation his way.  Dr Mahathir should let the Prime Minister do it his way”.

Despite the many appeals, Mahathir has upped his ante, saying on Wednesday (23 August) that he wished to attend the Umno general assembly in November as an elected delegate and would like to speak to the 2,000-odd leaders who will be there. This would effectively set the stage for a showdown with his successor in front of Umno's top brass.  But depending on Umno members’ votes, the ex-premier – now an ordinary member of the party – may or may not even get to attend the assembly.  Getting a chance to speak at the annual assembly will be even tougher.  But the Straits Times reported that the veteran leader's backers are said to be planning to grant him unconditional admission to the meeting as a mark of respect.  

Umno watchers say the party's annual assembly would be the best place for Mahathir to complain about his handpicked successor.  Unfortunately for Abdullah, his predecessor could corner so much attention as to overshadow the five-day meeting. The grapevine already has it that the Abdullah’s supporters will prevent Mahathir from being elected

Uncertainty in the top leadership may overshadow a much more insidious tension creeping into the society, revolving around the freedom of speech and freedom of religious beliefs, inter-faith debate, constitutional protection of non-Muslims and its political implications.  As the nation awaits the verdict on what could be the landmark court case on whether the civil or syariah court prevails (SEAPSNet News 22 August), signs seem to be pointing to the former.  At what is perhaps a demonstration of the delicate nature of the debate, when responding to questions on the Muslim community’s perception that when civil court judges hear matters involving Islam, they were interfering in Islamic matters, Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim on Tuesday (22 August) reassured reporters that the civil courts have not and will not usurp the functions of the syariah courts and said he did not see the justification for the people to fear this.  Despite this, essentially Ahmad Fairuz explained that the civil courts’ decisions are based on the Constitution alone.

The local media continued to run articles further explaining the government’s decision to ban public discussion on inter-faith matters, quoting Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mohd Nazri Aziz’s warning that the ban was necessary because religion was a sensitive matter and talking about it openly has the potential to create tension and resentment, thus widening the gap among the public who practise different faiths, and “can incite disharmony in our multi-religious society”.  Nazri reminded Parliament that the Government has given the freedom to Malaysians to discuss all other current issues, including constructive criticism against the Government.


Malaysian minister: It is a transfer of cronies (Today, 22 August 2006)

Showdown at Umno meet looms (The Straits Times, 24 August 2006)

No interference: Civil Courts will not usurp Syariah Court functions (New Straits Times, 23 August 2006)

‘Ban necessary, but still room to talk’ (New Straits Times, 22 August 2006)

No sensitive issues, please (The Star, 23 August 2006)